Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daring bakers-Buche de Noel!

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

The buche de noel is new to me, it contains lots of little surprises nestled inside a delicious chocolate mousse, then encased in a chocolate ganache icing.

I got to work on each component, making a creme brulee, rice krispy layer, almond daquoise, and then a chocolate mousse. I was happy to try using agar for the first time, and I'm pleased to say it seemed to work very well. I'll be using that again, and I'm very happy to have a gelatin alternative.

The log set up very nicely, I think it worked well freezing it then keeping it in the fridge for about 6 hours before serving. I think I would even put it in the fridge the night before serving, so that the creme brulee layer isnt frozen.

I made all the components pretty much as the recipe dictated and it was incredibly rich. I think it might have been nice to lighten up some of it, maybe a white or milk chocolate ganache icing or insert as the dark chocolate was very overwhelming.

I served it at work and everyone was very impressed and it was fun to see all the components all neatly organised! I'm very happy I tried this dessert, it was just the sort of tricky challenge I needed after all my fondant and cakes recently.

This is the buche before the icing:

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper . Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

Ingredients: 2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal 1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar 2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour 3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites 1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
  1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar.

  2. Sift the flour into the mix.
  3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
  4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.

  5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.

  6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
  7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.

  8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

1 tbsp agar flakes
3/4 cup water
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water 50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
  1. Boil the water with the agar until the flakes are all dissolved.
  2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).

2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.

2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.

2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.

3. Melt the chocolate with the cream (microwave works best for me)
4. Whip the remaining cream
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the agar solution, mixing well. Stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe. 6. Add in the rest of the whipped cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Keep in fridge until ready to use.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.


1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped

3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

  1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
  2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
  3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
  4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

    Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

    Chocolate Crisp Insert

3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate

1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter

1oz marzipan

1 oz caramel syrup

1 oz. (25g) lace crepes or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

  1. Mix the caramel with the marzipan and butter in a saucepan and heat until bubbling. Cool slightly, then add the chocolate and stir until melted.
  2. Add the rice crispies Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
  3. Spread on parchment paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

    Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...


1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

½ cup (115g) whole milk

4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks

0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

  1. Combine milk, cream and vanillar.
  2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
  3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
  4. Spray your mould with oil (I used a loaf pan). Pour the cream into the mold, place in a water bath and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
  5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

    Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 10 mins

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan


1/2 cup heavy cream
6oz dark chocolate, chopped

  1. Heat the cream until just starting to boil.
  2. Add the chocolate and stir until melted.

1) Line mould (loaf pan) with cling film

2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.

3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.

7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

9B) Close with the Dacquoise.

Freeze overnight, then cover with icing, then freeze. I took it and placed in the fridge for about 6 hours before serving.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Have a fantastic Christmas, and a very happy new year!! I'm in Australia with Mum, Brother, Sister in Law and little 4 month old neice, Poppy! Hopefully I'll have lots of fun stuff to talk about on my return!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lots of penguins!!

Somethings got me all ga ga about penguins these days. I made a couple of christmas cakes and decorated them with adorable penguins.
Then I started to make some oreo truffles, to use the last of my oreos and chocolate wafers, and I realised if put one on top of another they would make great penguins!!

The oreo truffles are incredibly easy, just take a packet or the equivalent of oreos or chocolate wafers (about a pound) and throw in the food processor with a packet of room temp cream cheese and whiz until you get a smooth dough. Shape into balls. Thanks to the kitchn and kraft for that handy idea!!

I then put one on top of the other, used a delicious white chocolate button for the belly, and a bit of white and black fondant for the eyes, and marzipan for the noses and bobs your uncle, everyone thinks you're a bit too obsessed with penguins these days!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Menu For Hope!!

Menu for hope is such a wonderful cause, you can get your christmas shopping done at the same time as paying for school lunches for some wonderful kids. Please see Chez Pim for much more about this wonderful cause. Also, please see Mattbites for many more west coast prizes.

Please enter prize code UW29 to win a gourmet gift basket prepared by yours truly. I'll whip up some of my favourite chutneys, marmalades, caramels, shortbreads, spicy peanuts, crackers and other goodiesHere is one I prepared this year for my bike team raffle, remember this is customizable to anyone's likes, dislikes, allergies and food preferences.

Oh, and if you're in the San Diego area I'd be happy to substitute by making you a party cake or cupcakes instead!

Donation Instructions:
1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at
2. Go to the donation site at and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vegan Cookies for Christmas!

For my birthday my dear friends from home sent me this wonderful cookbook, Veganomican and jokingly said that I needed to Fedex them some of the things I'd made from it.

I thought with the holidays coming up it was an ideal opportunity to make them some delicious vegan cookies and send them over. I hope they dont read this before they get there!! I also gave a few to my friend whose son is allergic to eggs.

The cookies are lovely and simple, they call for raspberry jam, but I only had cherry jam on hand, which combined really nicely with the chocolate.

Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies adapted from Veganomican

Makes 2 dozen

1/2 cup cherry conserves
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup veg oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350f, prepare baking sheets with silpat or parchment

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa.
Whisk together the other ingredients then combine with the dry.
Form the mixture into balls, then flatten slightly onto the baking sheets, they wont spread so they can be around 1/2 inch apart.
Bake for 10 mins then cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then further on a cooling rack.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Birthday to me! Princess Torte

My mum says I'm a bit sad having to make my own birthday cake, but it was really nice to have exactly what I wanted and to practice a technique. As soon as I saw this cake on Tartelette, I knew I wanted to make it.

This was a very tricky cake for me, it had layers of delicate sponge, spread with jam and then sandwiched between fluffy custard that had been folded into whipped cream. This airy mixture was then topped with a big sheet of marzipan, which just seemed to start to flatten the whole thing out! It was extremely difficult to cut, but worth the effort, it was a delicious light cake, in flavor if not calories and, as usual gone in a flash. I decided to forgo the green color, I just couldnt face changing the lovely marzipan. I learned that marzipan is a lot harder to work with than fondant, the little bits of almond just dont quite behave themselves, so its a bit harder to make shapes with.

Please visit Tartelette for the recipe, I didnt change it at all!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Baby Shower Fun!

I had a request for a cake for a baby shower. The mother to be wanted just a good chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. This was nice and straightforward, I decided on the 'cake bible' fudge cake with a whipped chocolate ganache filling and chocolate buttercream. I'd experimented with fondant so I was ready to take on a big cake, which is always good for these themed parties. I got to work with some gumpaste and made some pacifiers and ducks. I learned that gumpaste is only good for disks and flowers, not big forms, it dries too quickly. After some experimentation I realized that its better making figures with fondant. Always learning!
I was captivated by the teddy bear cookies that Mele Cote had on her blog and thought this would complement the cake nicely. I didn't have chocolate chips, so I piped the eyes and the nose and mouth with chocolate icing. They were a big hit. I tasted them a few days later and they were a bit bland, I'd probably kick up the spices and also try to change the contrast a little more as I could hardly tell between the dark and the light dough. I also realised I could have used golden syrup instead of corn syrup which would definitely help with the flavor!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Virtual hug in the form of bread and butter pudding

When I heard about this enormous hug going round on the web, I knew I'd like to join in. I love the idea, and I hope all this love with help Barbara to rid herself of the cancer that has come back to her, as love is sometimes the best medicine.

For Thanksgiving, the request was that I make a traditional bread and butter pudding. This seems like the perfect comforting food for someone who is feeling a little under the weather. The way mine was it wasn't crispy and crunchy on the top, just soft and delicious. And so easy to make! I think I'd have preferred a crisper browner top. I added some sherry soaked cherries instead of the usual raisins that are added. This is also a very frugal dish for anyone who's feeling the pinch these days.

Delia was my guide for this, although she added a lot of citrus notes, which my friend despises, so it was just plain vanilla and nutmeg for us!

Thanks to bron and iva for a wonderful idea.

Bread and Butter Pudding adapted from Delia Smith

1/2 cup cherries or raisins
1/2 cup sherry
8 slices bread (crappy cheap stuff from a small loaf)
approx 2oz (50g) butter
10 fl oz (275 ml) milk
2 1/2 fl oz (60ml) double cream
2oz (50g) caster/superfine sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 eggs
freshly grated nutmeg

Soak the cherries overnight in the sherry.
Preheat the oven to 350f, gas mark 4, 180
Grease a 2 pt shallow dish, 8 x 12 inch would probably work.
Warm the milk and cream in a saucepan with the scraped vanilla bean and steep for a while, allowing to cool.
Butter the bread and cut each of the slices into quarters, leaving the crusts on. Arrange half of them in the dish, then sprinkle half of the cherries on, then another layer of bread and cherries.
Add the sugar to the milk and cream and whisk to dissolve, then whisk the eggs up. Combine the two, adding the nutmeg, then pour over the bread and cherries.
Sprinkle a little more nutmeg over the dish, and some sugar and a few dabs of butter, bake for about 30-40 mins.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cakes galore!

I've recently officially started offering my services up to bake cakes for friends who need them, I've all but given up on getting into the pastry classes at Grossmont College, so I hope that if I can bake lots of cakes for people then I can learn as I go. The benefit for them is that I'm just charging for ingredients!

This is a little fondant mock up, a cupcake with buttercream wrapped in fondant with chocolate fondant flowers. I was very happy with it, as my first foray into fondant. I now feel I can try a full sized cake without too many worries.

I also tried my hand with gum paste, making these breast cancer ribbons, and putting them on fondant, hoping to delay the melting I'd seen with other cream cheese frosting.

I'm getting pretty happy with my flowers, the Wilton tip gives a lovely 'rose' shape on cupcakes, and you cant go wrong with a mixture of dulce de leche and cream cheese!

I also tried making a German Chocolate Cake. The topping seemed incredibly sweet, so I made some whipped chocolate ganache to complement it. Mmmmm!

I got to work on a spice cake for a friend at work, this went very well, the cake was delicious and very well behaved! It was quite dramatic looking as well, with 6 layers. Thanks sunset magazine for the recipe! I didn't get as far as the toffee crunch topping, but it went very quickly and I got lots of complements! Need to work on the writing though!

Now for the cakes that weren't quite as successful!!

This was another batch of the owls. They were a bit tricky, I got real Oreos instead of the Vons ones, and they were very brittle and kept breaking. When I went to hand them over a lot of the ears had cracked and I was very disappointed. Thankfully the birthday boy didnt seem to notice too much.

This was a delicious fudgy cake. I didnt cut the 'dome' off the bottom cake, I put the top layer on, and then put some very heavy caramel frosting on top and the layer cracked into 4, you may be able to see the dents. AAAGH!!! The caramel frosting also refused to stick to the sides, so I used whipped chocolate ganache instead. Very stressful! I learned my lesson about flattening the layers out though! I've since heard it went down really well and the flavors were really good, if the cake was a bit shoddy looking.

This was my attempt at the 'hello cupcake' penguins, they look more like penguin zombies, all pathetic. I'm glad I didn't make these for a specific purpose, I took them into work and everyone seemed to think they were very cute. My first failure from that cookbook, not anything like as easy as they imply! The penguin is constructed with a half mini donut, and a donut hole on top, then frozen and dipped in black colored chocolate frosting. The donuts
were difficult to cover, and the beaks refused to stay!

I thought I'd share the wonderful chocolate ganache recipe, this is just awesome and incredibly useful for cake decorating/fixing/piping and just eating out of the bowl.

Light Whipped Ganache Filling and Frosting.
Makes 4 cups (enough to fill and frost two 9 by 1 1/2 layers)

8oz Bittersweet chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

I've made this twice, the first time I followed the instructions and chopped the chocolate in the food processor and then added hot cream to it. Then when I took the food processor off the stalk, the creamy mixture started pouring out of the bottom! So I'd suggest adding the chopped chocolate to the warm cream in a saucepan, then pour into a bowl.

Refrigerate until cool, stirring once or twice (about 2 hours) then whip until soft peaks are formed. It may be best to do this by hand to make sure not to overbeat.

This lasts for one day at room temp, 1 week refrigerated or 3 months frozen, although I dont think you'll have trouble finding something to do with it!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Baking! Caramel cake and caramels

Well this was an exciting month for me, I got to co-host this challenge with Dolores and Alex. I'd tried it a few times before for my Wilton classes so I knew it was a winner!

The recipes were a signature caramel cake from Shuna Fish Lydon (aka eggbeater), and an additional bonus challenge of Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels. I cant say no to caramels, so I did both!

We made a caramel sauce, and then incorporated it into a cake and the frosting. I found this to be a totally delicious cake, really moist and not too fatty either. I'm biased as I adore caramel, but I really liked it!

The cake is fairly straightforward, its lovely and moist from the caramel and from the milk that is added.

The frosting is very interesting, it is made from brown butter. I found that even my fine strainer let flecks of the browned butter through, but I liked the brown flecks in the icing.

This time, I decided to add some apple accents, I made apple chips as a decoration(see gourmet, I used cinnamon instead of cumin), and mixed some of the frosting with my apple butter for the filling. I think it worked really well. I then took some of the caramel syrup and boiled up with some cream to make the caramel syrup decoration. I also discovered that trying to write with caramel is very tricky as you get little hard bits of caramel getting stuck in the piping tip.

Many of the Daring Bakers mentioned that this recipe was too sweet for them, I knew that I'd made it before, but it got me second guessing myself and worrying that everyone would hate it. Turns out I didn't need to worry, the birthday girl loved it and everyone else seemed to as well. Its a lovely moist cake, we all knew to take a small slice, but it was very well received. Another reminder that the daring bakers are a very diverse bunch, and maybe the recipe changes depending on your location and ingredients, not to mention everyone interpreting the caramel instructions differently. Funnily enough Shuna recently commented on this in a post.

I actually made 1 1/2 recipes so I could make some babycakes too, they were made in little petits fours cases, but they came away from the cakes so I removed them. I topped them with a little apple butter/frosting mixture and an apple chip or two.

I then got to work on the caramels. A vanilla bean was simmered in some heavy cream, which was added to a boiling mixture of sugar and golden syrup. The mix was then boiled until it reached 265f and then poured into a pan to cool. They were cut into squares and then I had to very quickly wrap them before I ate them all, they were totally delicious!! I found them to be even more delicious than my usual fleur de sel caramels. Not sure if it was the golden syrup or the real vanilla bean. Mmmm



10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)

2 eggs, at room temperature

splash vanilla extract

2 Cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream them until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl.

Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan.

Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand.

Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush.

Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted

4-6 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown.

Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

GOLDEN VANILLA BEAN CARAMELS- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels

Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert


1 cup golden syrup

2 cups sugar

3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened


9-inch square baking pan (I used a silicone one so no fussing around was required)

Candy thermometer

Procedure: Place the baking pan on a cookie sheet.

Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges.

Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.)

Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more.

Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F.

Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm. Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

More fun ideas from 'Hello Cupcake'. These turkeys were a little tricky, but they came out great. Somehow they all look really worried about ending up on someone's dinner plate!! They are very easy to make, all you need are cupcakes, mini cupcakes, scalloped cookies, chocolate covered sunflower seeds, candy corn, sprinkles, marshmallows, graham crackers, strawberry fruit leather, a little chocolate icing and a little vanilla icing and bob's your uncle.

I used the Martha Stewart Pumpkin Cupcakes. The recipe says it makes 18, but I must be a bit stingy, I ended up with an additional 24 mini cupcakes! The frosting was a rather temperamental caramel frosting. It was impossible to spread, I ended up making a disc of it and popping it on the cakes. I'm sure it tasted great though!

Have a wonderful thanksgiving, whatever you do. I'm definitely thankful for the encouragement that I get from everyone to experiment with my cooking and keep on baking!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Breakfast!

I like our Sunday routine, we have a nice cooked breakfast together, its not crazy over the top and its really healthy as opposed to what we sometimes end up with when we go out!

I steam a little spinach, mix with nutmeg salt and pepper, put it on bagels, followed by slow scrambled eggs, and serve with grilled tomatoes, and some bacon for Andy.

He's dorky and has his knife and fork the wrong way!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bob the builder cupcakes!

My friend's son is celebrating his birthday, and I thought it would be fun to make him some cakes, especially since he's allergic to eggs, so its difficult to find him nice treats that wont make him sick. I found these adorable cakes and thought I'd give them a try! I bought some gumpaste and decided it was too gross to actually use as a frosting, so I tried making mini bobs as a little cupcake topper. It worked great. I have a little more confidence to try things now. The other cakes were topped with little car candies I found at IKEA.

I used the chow recipe, which rose beautifully and produced lovely dark chocolate cakes. I topped with a chocolate frosting, and the other cakes, I topped with a whipped mixture of 8oz low fat cream cheese and a can of dulce de leche.

I learned two things, firstly that I dont think that tip was particularly good for the frosting. Made it look a bit poopish. Also, cream cheese frosting should be used only when the cakes are to be served immediately, and it is no good for anything except a quick swirl, the 'bobs' started to dissolve and look a bit grim.

Hopefully the little tinker didnt realise, and was able to eat cake without getting sick.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Owl Cupcakes, what a hoot!

After a particularly tedious day at work, I really needed to feel like I'd accomplished something, so I opened my trusty 'Hello cupcake' book and saw these delightful owls. I love this book, its really easy to get brilliant effects from easy to get candies and cookies.

This particular design just relies on some chocolate cupcakes and frosting, a packet of oreos, junior mints and m&m's (or banana candy).

It was definitely the antidote to a 'blah' day, I felt very creative once I'd got them made! Everyone at work was very pleased too.

I tried the dorie greenspan chocolate cupcakes. They seemed to be quite dry, so I dont know if my flour was really packed or something. I prefer my cakes to be nice and moist.

After doing a search, I found out that the very dedicated 'Tuesdays with Dorie' folks had tried this recipe and that they had trouble with dryness too, it looks like they need to be baked for a much shorter time than stated in the book.

Please check out these delicious cupcakes at scrumptious photography for the recipe and some lovely looking cakes!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Looking for a pie for Thanksgiving?

Here's the perfect opportunity to help a neighbour in need, and also get a delicious pie for Thanksgiving. Mama's kitchen gets lots of pies donated from local restaurants and bakeries then sells them for $20, $15 of which is deductible.

Choose from Pumpkin, Pecan, Apple, and Sugar-Free Apple.

The proceeds go to help prepare and deliver food to men, women and children who are affected by AIDS or other critical illnesses.

See here for how to get involved.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Apple Butter

I had a wonderful trip to Julian on Saturday, then on Sunday I took the delicious apples I had, a mixture of red delicious, pippin, some unknown little bewise apples, and cooked them up slowly over an entire sunday with a little apple cider and made them into a delicious rich apple butter.

There isnt really a recipe, I just peeled and chopped the apples, poured apple cider to cover and simmered them on a really low heat all day until they were completely uniform, then blended them to make them silky smooth. I sterilized the jars with boiling water and voila!!

You also get to see our crazy looking synthetic lawn. Its a bit odd, and looks a bit like a carpet, but I think we made the right choice. Its wonderful to walk on, nice and neat and doesn't need any water. Good stuff.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A vacation to the red sea

Sorry, no pictures, I really hate taking pictures in restaurants. But what I can tell you is I had a really good meal at the red sea restaurant in City Heights yesterday.

There was a group of 8 of us and we ordered a veggie combo and a meat combo and I only sampled the veggie but it was great. A big injera with a large dollop of salad in the middle, surrounded by little bits of lentil curries, veg curry and collards. More injera were brought to mop up the delicious curries, and its all eaten family style.

The injera takes a bit of getting used to, its like a sour pancake, similar to the indian masala dosa but made with teff flour. Some people might be a bit intimidated by eating with their hands family style, I'd assume you could order a fork and and individual portion.

We also ordered beers, we had the choice of a 4.5%, 5.5% and stout (although he mentioned there being 7 types of beer) and the beers were quite sweet, but good with the curry.

What was a shock at the end was that this enormous meal for 8 with one or two beers came to $10 each including a generous tip! Recession buster or what.

If you want a trip to the exotic red sea then give this place a try!
Red Sea Restaurant
4717 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92105

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Veggie Sausages

I recently saw the recipe for veggie italian sausages and they looked absolutely delicious, I tried making them and I really didnt care for them. Whether it was that there was too much seasoning or that I didnt use 'Bills best Chik'nsh Seasoning' it was just nasty. They will be sliced very thinly in sandwiches or chopped up tiny in soups.

I came to my buffet class and we were doing sausages, so it was my perfect opportunity to try them again with some adaptions to my taste.

Chick pea flour wasnt available, so I subsituted soy flour, and I had to omit nutritional yeast. I would add this in with the dry ingredients if it was available.

Veggie seitan sausages-makes 12. Adapted from everyday dish TV

1/4 cup onion chopped very finely
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup soy flour
2 tbsp granulated onion
1 to 2 tsp fennel seed, optional
2 tsp coarsely ground pepper, preferably freshly ground
2 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp dried chili flakes, optional
1 tsp ground smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
3 cups very finely minced veggies (we used tomatoes and peppers)
cold water if necessary
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp better than bouillon

Preheat the oven to 350f

Combine all the spices, grind them in a spice grinder, mix with the other dry ingredients and set aside

Fry the onions and garlic, mix with soy sauce, bouillon and veggies

Mix the wet and dry then knead until combined. Add water if too dry.

Shape the mixture into sausages and wrap in foil then bake for around 30 mins, or steam. I prefer the 'crust' from baking.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Day in Julian

Today I had the pleasure of riding the 'Tour de Julian' on my bike. I think some people who did the ride had a bit of a nasty shock when they realised that the ride snaked through the hills all the way to the top of Mount Laguna! It was a rude 5000ft climb in 55 miles.

It was absolutely beautiful with the fall colors at the top though, the sunrise highway is really beautiful to see too, with some gnarly burned trees and pretty grasses.

We were rewarded at the finish with a massive slice of apple pie with ice cream at the end. I didnt eat the entire pie, but it was a jolly generous piece.

All this apple talk got me thinking, while I'm here I should get some apples! We swung by the mayer orchard on the 78 just before Santa Ysbel and picked up some truly delicious apples, honey, pears and I picked up one black walnut too.

This is a great time to check out the san diego backcountry, although I'd say you'd want to avoid Julian at the weekend, its a crazy zoo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Baking! Pizza!

What a great challenge! Again, its one of those things where you think you've done it before and its a bit boring, but follow the recipe and learn something new.

Thanks so much to Rosa, Sher and Glen for this great challenge. This is dedicated to the lovely Sher, its so sad that she isn't here baking along with us all.

The challenge seems like a very familiar one but there were a couple of things I hadn't tried with pizza. The dough was fermented at low temperature overnight. This results in a much more elastic dough, that is much more flexible for shaping.

The second thing which was required was that we toss the pizza. As a Brit, this made me chuckle, thinking of Gordon Ramsay talking about the daring bakers being a bunch of tossers. Hee hee!

I did what was required, and had a go at the tossing, it was hard to get a photo of it in the air, I hope this will suffice. It was actually really good, I came out with the thinnest crust I've ever got. This technique requires lots and lots of practice, I don't know if I'll ever get really good at it, but I definitely approve of the super thin crust, it was totally delicious and my favorite way to eat pizza.

It evoked memories of my trip to Verona, the lakes, and Belluno in Italy a few years ago with my now husband. A wonderful trip, with the best pizza I've ever tasted.

My first three pizzas were topped with delicious kabochi squash, which had been sauteed in browned sage butter, spinach, mushrooms and smoked jack cheese. Mmmm.

The second time I made it, I took the frozen dough from the freezer, defrosted it overnight and then tossed it and topped with mozarella, tomato sauce, mushrooms and roasted peppers. Tasty but not as exciting as the first. The rounder pizza is my husband's, he obviously likes a thicker crust, and the second is mine, much thinner.

Please see rosa's blog for a lovely pizza and the recipe. I highly recommend that anyone tries this 2 day method.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mmm Pumpkin Fudge

I got invited to a pumpkin party and so I was looking for the perfect pumpkin recipe to make for it. I decided I felt like making a pumpkin fudge. Yet again, epicurious came to the rescue with a recipe. It came out great. I read some of the reviews and some were quite funny saying it was too sweet and that sort of thing (er dur, its fudge mate, I think you'd expect super sweet!).

Its a lovely orange color, very pretty and autumnal.

I mixed up the pumpkin puree, sugar, syrup and milk, then got it bubbling away. The mixture is brought up to a temperature of 258, then it is taken off the heat, butter and pumpkin pie spice added, and I had to wait an eternity for it to cool down to 140 so I could beat it. An addition of walnuts and vanilla, then I started at it with a wooden spoon. It was dumped into a square pan and allowed to cool and it was just perfect.

Please check on epicurious to see the recipe. My additions were an extra 1/2 cup of heavy cream as I'd used fat free milk, and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.

My political opinions

I'm not allowed to vote, so I get to watch this whirlwind of politics from the sidelines just crossing my fingers that people vote for what I believe in. Hopefully in about 6 years they might let me become a citizen and I can actually state my opinion too.

There are two bills on this election I feel very strongly about.

1. Prop 8. I think that everyone should have the right to get married and be legally protected. PLEASE VOTE NO ON PROP 8! I also hate that the yes people are making stupid stuff up about schools to try and get their point across. I also hate the rock church for poisoning their members minds, managing to keep their tax-exempt status, and stealing my parking space at Trader Joes (yay, I brought it back round to food)

1. Prop 2. Please vote for the animals to have bigger cages and get treated better. Its time we started treating animals like beings and not like commodities. This prop doesnt go nearly far enough but its a start. And I'm sorry, but I feel bad for the farmers and all, but I think its important that we stop messing up our environment and treating animals like crap.

Thanks guys, I cant wait until next week when this is all over!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back to Blighty!

Well, I'm back from a wonderful trip to England.

I spent a couple of days getting used to being home in Cambridgeshire, enjoyed a delicious pub lunch and Celidh.

Then I went to my hometown of Birmingham to catch up with old friends and enjoy a delicious curry at Sylhet. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven when we were standing outside the pub and were trying to decide between 3 great curry houses all less than a minutes walk. I also had a great tapas meal with mum in a break on our visit to Warwick Castle. It was a jolly fun day out, although the wax figurines were a little disturbing!

Then it was down to London where I enjoyed more Tapas. The following day I made my way into town and enjoyed a nice bowl of soup at the intriguing Crypt restaurant, which was actually underneath Trafalgar Square. It made me chuckle a little that they offered a 'soup and pudding' lunch special, where pudding means dessert. MMMM.

Another day an egg and cress sandwich with a fantastic view of the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral. I met a friend in the borough market, enjoyed a pint at the Market Porter, followed by a wander through the city, then a glass of wine and a cheese plate at Vinoteca in Farringdon, then a stroll up to Angel and another brilliant curry at Masala Zone.

My final day was an all out blowout, I met a friend at the borough market (again!) and enjoyed a truly delicious Pain au Chocolat, then pub lunch at the Flask in Highgate and a really great Eritrean meal at Green Lanes where we only managed to eat half of what was given to us. Thankfully my friend Sean had a really big doggie bag to take home for the next day.

I was also really chuffed that I managed to check out borough market. It really is absolutely wonderful. It was another place that was just oozing history, having been there for over 200 years. I got to sample truly delicious cheeses, lovely brownies, tasty fudge and a truly wonderful Pain au Chocolat. I was very happy that it lived up to my expectations.

In my years in the US, it feels like the food there and here has improved in pockets. I really like the fact that the brits take their food seriously but arent too stuffy about it. This really came home to me when I listened to a broadcast of the food program on Radio 4 and they were discussing 'slow food'. The people in san francisco (much as I love them) were so far up their own arses that they couldnt have fun with their food anymore, isnt that what slow food is all about, dinner, conversation, fun and passion?!!